Monthly Archives: October 2011

  •    NYTimes reports on Amazon’s foray into publishing:
    (Russell Grandinetti) pointed out, though, that the landscape was in some ways changing for the first time since Gutenberg invented the modern book nearly 600 years ago. “The only really necessary people in the publishing process now are the writer and reader,” he said. “Everyone who stands between those two has both risk and opportunity.”
    Amazon has been launching imprints for the last year or so, including romance imprint Montlake Romance, thriller imprint Thomas & Mercer, and most recently sci-fi imprint 47North. Nothing new here, this article has been a long time coming. #
  •    O’Reilly Media has kindly released a free ebook: What Is EPUB 3? Download it here.. #
  •    EPUB 3 Becomes Final IDPF Specification. And now: the wait for adoption. #
  •    Marco Arment’s Review of the New $79 Kindle:
    Honestly, once I got into what I was reading, I forgot about the cheap, crappy page-turn buttons and the tacky ads on the sleep screen. Even the distorted unblinked text isn’t very noticeable when you’re engrossed in a book.

    And therein lies Amazon’s true genius with the relentless pace of making the Kindles cheaper in both price and quality: they know that once you’re reading, minor hardware flaws are quickly forgotten.
    Sounds like a good deal. #

Music, Books, and Formats

Here’s a thought I had a couple months back: the music industry has gone to hell (and by hell I mean the chaos of digital) a lot faster than the publishing industry has. What was different? And how have things changed? In this essay, I’d like to explore the difference in degree of change in these two industries, and hopefully discover a few things about the current change we’re seeing in publishing.


The first reason for publishing’s comparatively slow change is obvious: there were no good reading devices before Amazon got into the hardware business. It won’t be much of an exaggeration to say that the Kindle singlehandedly jumpstarted the ebook industry — it showed, amongst other things, what was possible given E Ink technology and a persistent link to a rich ebook store. In the meantime, the music industry had a bunch of companies building mp3 players, long before Apple entered that market with the iPod. Innovation was certainly not lacking in music.

(There’s a remarkable story here, if you’re interested in such things. Amazon really struggled to build the first Kindle. Businessweek reports:

The effort to develop the first Kindle ended up taking more than three years. Nearly everything went wrong. The black-and-white displays from E Ink, an offshoot of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab that makes screens resembling the printed page and requiring very little power, would look good for one month and then degrade alarmingly. Qualcomm, which was set to provide the wireless chips, was sued by a competitor, Broadcom, and for months was enjoined by a judge from selling its wares in the U.S. The Lab126 team repeatedly urged Bezos to make their project easier by considering a Wi-Fi-only connection for the Kindle. He rejected the idea, constantly suggesting new ones for complicated features, like the notion that customers’ annotations of books should be backed up on Amazon’s servers.

Looking back, it’s remarkable that Amazon — a retail company — even considered making the leap into hardware. Writers have a lot to thank Amazon for.)

Industry attraction

The lack of innovation in E-Reading devices is symptomatic of a larger fact: that music, as an industry, is more attractive than publishing. Dalton Caldwell of music startup imeem has said that people keep trying to do music startups because they love music. In comparison, publishing startups are few and far between.

Now I’m not saying that it’s easy to innovate in the music industry today. In fact, Caldwell’s speech is an argument against doing music startups, given the industry’s love of lawsuits. What I am saying is that the lawsuits are a result of the early innovations that so quickly changed the music industry.

We don’t know if publishers would turn to lawsuits in response to increasing levels of ebook piracy. I’m inclined to think not: a good side-effect of publishing’s comparatively slow change is that publishers have more time to cope with the disruption.